Thursday, 21 August 2014

COLOMBIA 2014: Arrival & Rio Blanco (19-20 July)

19 July 2014.  Nick Preston and I met at Heathrow Terminal 2 early on 19 July to fly Colombia via Lisbon with TAP.  We'd both travelled to Heathrow the evening before being greatly delayed by a fire on the tube near Acton Town.  I arrived just after midnight and found a quiet spot to get some sleep, Nick preferring the comfort but not convenience of a nearby budget hotel.  Our flight left pretty much on time just after 8am and we changed planes in Lisbon (seeing Swallow and White Wagtail in the process).  It was a comfortable ten hour flight to Bogota where we arrived slightly late just after 4pm.  I watched Gravity and all three Millennium Trilogy films.  At Bogota a driver was waiting to take us to the Casa de Patio, much used by birders, where we had a meal.  Bogota looked a very modern city with lots of development, bus and cycle lanes.  I saw Great Thrush, Eared Dove and a White-tailed Kite on the journey from the airport.  
leaving Lisbon, I had a window seat with a nice view of one of the A320's engines
over the Andes
approaching Bogota
Nick had been to Colombia in 2011, guided by Pablo Flores, and rated it very highly. His tales of antpitta feeding stations and exotic endemic tanagers caught my imagination and despite my having neglected tropical South America for 15 years I was receptive to joining him on a return trip, expecting more of the same.  We got the green light from Pablo to join sections of a scheduled trip to the Andes, Amazon and Choco and gave ourselves a fourth week for Santa Marta, booked flights in November and sent him a deposit.  We then waited for further promised information to be sent, and Nick chased and we waited again (x2 or x3).  In the end I bought Pablo's recent birders guide and discovered to my dismay that there were no feeding stations in the places we were going, no endemic tanagers, the hoped for Collared Puffbird was much scarcer than I'd been led to believe and the Choco site was on the coast and offered little of particular interest.  Feeling rather bolshy and still without any info from Pablo I seriously considered pulling out and write off the airline ticket and deposit although I had little time to sort something else out before my leave year finished.  Nick was a bit taken aback but at least got a minor change to the itinerary to include Rio Blanco where 4 species of antpitta were regularly fed.  It was to be the first place we visited.  I therefore went to sleep in Bogota with a sense of anticipation.

20 July 2014.  A driver picked us and took us back to the airport for a 07:30 Avianca flight to Manizales.  Unfortunately he dropped us at the wrong terminal but we had enough time to get the shuttle bus to the correct one.  It was a short flight and a driver was waiting to meet us for the half hour drive to the reserve.  Pablo had arranged for Alfredo, the warden at Rio Blanco, to wait until we arrived before doing his feeding round and we soon set out with him carrying a bucket of worms.  The morning was one of the best I've ever had with my first three new birds all antpittas!  We returned to the lodge for lunch, taken while watching the hummingbird feeders, and in the afternoon did some more general birding, dodging a few showers but unfortunately without seeing much (White-capped Tanager and Black-billed Mountain Toucan occurred nd we distantly heard the latter).  We left Rio Blanco as the light was beginning to fade and were driven to Otun, via Manizales and Pereira which took about two hours.  I was disappointed to find that Pablo had left a few minutes before to go owling with some of the group we were joining.  He was in ontact with our driver and so knew our arrival was imminent and could easily have held on for us, or phoned to see if we were interested to join him.  In the event they saw the endemic Colombian Screech Owl and I saw only one species of owl all trip.

leaving Bogota in an Avianca ATR72
over the Andes, heavily deforested here

ATR72 at Manizales
Nick and Alfredo with the most essential birding tool, a bucket of worms
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, one of the smartest I've seen
amazingly long legs
I have had good views of this species before (in Venezuela and Ecuador)  but for a normally shy species these were mind blowing



they are such a brilliant shape
this bird had perfected singing with a mouthful
the first feeding station was also shared with two Brown-banded Antpittas
not so colourful but with equal character and similar long legs
we went a bit higher to the next feeding station, our driver on the right was playing a game that involved throwing a heavy weight at a target set in an artificial mud bank.  He seemed very good at it. I doubt I could have heavde it half the required distance and so stuck to birding!
Bicoloured Antpitta at the higher feeding station




another very long legged antpiita
that was absolutely brilliant (and a bird of the trip contender0

looking back down at Manizales from Rio Blanco
forested hillside at Rio Blanco, as well as being a reserve it provides drinking water for Manizales and so hopefully its protection is ensured
another Brown-banded Antpitta was also present at the third (and sadly final) feeding station

but we'd really hoped to see the smaller, brighter Slate-crowned Antpitta
it did not disappoint





another bird of the trip contender
the Brown-breasted wanted its photo taken some more too



a confiding Cinnamon flycatcher was seen on our walk back to the lodge for lunch

as was a rather active Golden-fronted Whitestart



I'd not brought my telescope (too heavy) but Nick had a small 20x60 Nikon and my first attempt at digiscoping through it, this Great Thrush, was quite pleasing (but sadly better than most of my later efforts).
the lodge at Rio Blanco, with humming bird feeders around most of the veranda
Green Violetear (green throat and belly)
the larger Shining Violetear (blue throat and belly)
Collared Inca
one of the larger and more stunning hummers, also one of the most distinct

and one of the few I captured in flight and some blur of the wings even with a shutter speed of 1/400th sec
still 1/400th but amazingly wings appear to have been caught on the turn
male Long-tailed Sylph in the rain, when some of the hummers went nuts

Buff-tailed Coronet, the commonest hummer at the feeders


a female Buff-tailed Coronet
Buff-tailed Coronets and a much smaller female White-bellied Woodstar
Tourmaline Sunangel not quite catching the sun
Eared Dove
Roadside Hawk
in the rain
Andean Motmot in appalling light as we were leaving Rio Blanco